Monday, April 27, 2020

When this is all over

I'm finding that life at the moment is made immeasurably better by thinking about what I'll do when things get back to normal.  Nothing too big, nothing silly, just something positive to look forward to. What are you planning to do when life returns to normal? Or our own personal versions of normal!

I'm planning...

A big long walk in the countryside

A trip to Ikea to buy lampshades. We've owned this house for nearly a year, we need some damn lampshades. No, I don't want to order online, I want to browse and eat meatballs.

Painting "my" room. I need paint. Paint is not being delivered. This will have to wait till we're all out and about again

A visit to a garden centre AND a farm shop. Truly, these are wild and crazy plans

Planning our holiday next year: Paris to Bordeaux where a friend of ours lives. Can.Not.Wait

Those are my feet, as I contemplated possible wall colours. 
Tray of seedlings on top of the wardrobe... 

Good things this week? Both Ed O'Brien and Laura Marling have released albums of thoughtfulness and grace. The Hive online bookshop has both supplied me with books I'd like to read and donated a percentage to the local(ish) independent bookshop of my choice. I managed to score some rhubarb for a crumble and some asparagus for a pasta with goats cheese. The boyfriend had a fit of unaccustomed energy and defrosted the freezer. I now have a hose long enough to water the entire allotment without the need for trudging to the tap and back with a medium sized watering can. There are seedlings everywhere. 

Friday, April 17, 2020

March Reading

Yes, I know we are very much not in March any more, but given that it took me two weeks to realise that I hadn't changed the calendar over, I think a little time slippage can be forgiven. 

March was full of really chewy subject matter in my reading. I'd been after a copy of The Five for a long time but I have an aversion to hardbacks (they're too heavy to read in the bath!), so had to wait a whole year for the paperback version. Totally worth the wait. Utterly brilliant: soundly researched, compellingly told. I finished the book both heartbroken for those poor women and furious that their story has been so manipulated by those with a ghoulish and/or financial interest in Ripper mythology.

Continued the feminist theme with Difficult Women. A disclaimer: Helen Lewis grew up in my city and I wanted her to come give a talk at the museum (oh happy days of event planning before the virus!), so I broke my No Hardback rule for her. So damn glad I did. She thoroughly rejects the idea that difficult women should be airbrushed out of history: their achievements should be celebrated with a full and comprehensive understanding of their characters As A WHOLE, not simplified to anodyne goodness. Real women, interesting women, are complicated and yes, dammit, difficult. 

Then to complete the trio, a rereading of Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal by Jeanette Winterson. Read it years ago and, because she grew up not far from where my Nan did, I can hear her mother in my head. Luckily I get to close the book and not have years of psychotherapy afterward. Astonishing what a person can achieve despite their upbringing. 

Wilding was a gorgeous evocation of what can be done to bring back the biodiversity and truly green spaces we need (freely admit to skipping the bits that got too science-y). A Murder of Quality practically flung itself off the shelf at me as the virus began to bite outside and I needed something well written, read before and short to distract me. Le Carre is always good. 

Beatlebone. Hmm. I brought the boyfriend this as he has a massive Beatles obsession. That shouldn't mean I have to read it too but apparently, according to relationship rules, I do (these rules also apply in reverse, so he's currently reading Wilding). Anyway. I did not care for Beatlebone. I did not care for the characters. I did not care about the ending. It will not do. Here endeth my foray into fiction that "takes you to the very edge of the novel form." 

And finally, Calypso. Oh David Sedaris, why are you not my strange uncle? Hilarious and moving. And a relief to find someone so open about his own unsympathetic, borderline unpleasant, personality traits. If you think he's brutal about others, you should hear him talk about himself. And the nonsense the world thrives on. 

Disclaimer: all of the links I've provided are to the Hive website which supports independent bookshops by giving the one you nominate a percentage of the sale. For goodness sake, let's kick Amazon to the damn curb, shall we? I like proper bookshops: they make towns and cities look nice, and they pay their taxes properly. 

And here enedth my lesson. What are you all reading? Or has your concentration, like a good friend of mine's, been completely shot, so you can't. If you can, what genres are you escaping into?

Thursday, April 16, 2020

How are we all?

Well my dears, how are we all? It seems I can't move at the moment for news of the virus, advice on how to avoid the virus or tips on how to spend my time during the virus. To paraphrase Hermione, "fear of the virus increases fear of everyone who wants to see me self-improve during the lockdown". 

Toadflax. Only found out this week what it is. Pretty ain't it? Just sitting there
on the wall like it owns the place.  

As a natural introvert, this is pretty much my idea of bliss: enforced staying in, no contact except with those I love. I'm happy to wake up at my usual time and, in lieu of my 20 minute walk to work, read for a bit longer. Or start work earlier, so I can knock off similarly and then spend the extra time at the allotment. 

So far I have:

  • read an inordinate amount of crime fiction, because I find this soothing
  • planted 4 rows of potatoes at the allotment
  • sowed many seeds at home, which I regularly stand over, raising my hands, saying "grow my pretties, GROW"
  • made cinnamon buns and focaccia
  • chatted to family via video call
  • invented quizzes to keep people I work with occupied with my nonsense even when I'm not physically there
  • weeded the front garden
  • started learning Spanish (once started, long abandoned)
  • bent myself to a benevolent yoga goddess and practised most days (even if only for 20 mins at a time)
  • eaten too much chocolate, crisps and bread but I don't care
  • cycled near-empty streets
Rosemary at the allotment. The bees are loving it. 

This really is a time for finding pleasure in the small things and that's always been my forte. I get an intense pleasure from things like clean sheets, cow parsley on the tow path, the smell of bread, proper coffee, cutting my own fringe (been doing it for years now), lying in a patch of sun with a book, listening to the cat purr, watching the crochet blanket grow under my fingers. 

I have so far resisted the temptation to make my own sourdough starter, but that is surely only a matter of days away. And to be fair, sourdough is my favourite type of bread, after soft white sesame seed rolls, which have a long held treasured taste memory for me (my Nan used to toast them and serve them with real butter and marmalade. Eating them now, I'm 8 years old again, swinging my legs at her kitchen table, eager to get out across to the farm opposite for a good long explore).

Picked up a pen and started drawing again - with mixed results. Some of those birds
are quite disturbing. Slow growth of the crochet blanket. 

Podcasts rumble on in the background, under the clatter of my fingers on the laptop keyboard as I work from home. Shedunnit, Backlisted and In Our Time. 
Ah work. I am lucky in that I've not been laid off, my job isn't zero hours and I'm not front-line in the care sector or NHS. That said, it has felt harder than usual. My head hurts by the end of the day and my back is stiff. I've decorated my little "office" and filled it with plants, but still there is something lacking. People. I miss the volunteers and my colleagues, all of whom are now furloughed. There is a sense that I'm what the museum is relying on to see it through, and the responsibility is a little overwhelming. It's also slightly lonely.   

My office. Succulents, flowers from the canal path, 
some research and tea, old tin pen pot resisting attempts 
to make me use a proper pen pot

And I miss my son. He not long moved into his own place and was loving working with adults who have mental and physical disabilities. Yes, he is in the front-line of the care sector, but is treating it all with his usual sanguinity (is that a word? I say yes, spell check says no) and messages all end with his standard "lol" that makes me want to slap a thesaurus in front of him. I find I am better if I don't think about it and just check in with him every couple of days. 
"How are you doing kid x"
"Yeah, good thanks lol"
See what I mean?

So far, I have not:
  • started a podcast
  • repainted the house
  • started a couch to 5k
  • become an influencer
  • mastered the art of cordon bleu cookery ("sandwich for dinner okay, yeah?" "yeah")
  • put all my "content" online - mainly because I have no content
  • started any of those challenging books people say are good for lockdown situations. James Joyce, I'm looking at you
  • written a blog post about all the things people should be doing or how they could improve themselves during this time.
Life is weird, do what makes you feel good. And you don't need me to tell you what that is. 
Robin with a beak full of flies, sitting cheekily close 
when I took a break

Weather Advisory Service

On the way home from the train the other day, I took a shortcut through the dripping allotment grounds, the grass and earth squelching under...